Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lesson #7: There Is Power And Serenity In Saying "No".

Interviewing daytime soap actors and actresses has become one of the greatest joys in my life.  Not only do I get to meet people I have looked up to and admired for decades, but often times I learn tools and techniques for managing my own problems. The interview I did with Patricia Pease in June, 2009, was one of these occasions.

Patricia had played tortured Kimberly Brady on Days Of Our Lives for most of 1984-1992.  However during one of her "breaks" from the show, Patricia had actually been fired for refusing to act out a story in which the real-life pregnant actress would have played her character giving birth to a stillborn baby.  In my mind, making such a decision would have been fraught with fury and stress.  But Patricia instead clarified for me the power of saying, "no."
When you are really settled, and coming from a place of love...it isn’t a demand, it isn’t a loud “no”, it isn’t a dig-you-heels-in-the-ground kind of “no.” It is very quiet. And it is very simple. I had come to a point where there weren’t a whole lot of things I was sure about, but the one thing I knew 100% in my heart was that I loved being a mother. I never knew such love my entire life. And I wasn’t about to jeopardize it. So it was really easy at that point to say, “No, thank you.”
Previous to this interview, I always thought that saying "no" meant that I had to have an adverse reaction, and build "evidence" for my "case."  I believed that "no" could only be expressed in anger and frustration when things got really bad.  I realized here that saying "no" could be a very loving peaceful and protective statement to make.

Soon after this interview, I experienced an unjust decision against me in a work setting.  I had needed a day off to fly out to the Daytime Emmy's in California, and was told "no" because two other clinicians had already been approved off for that day.  This was my third summer at this setting, and frequently had covered when three other clinicians were absent.  Yet I was the only one who was denied time off. 

My instinct was to quit on the spot.  After years of service I believed I deserved better.  I was outraged, offended, hurt, and believed I had been singled out.  I had a good mind to rush right in and give an ultimatum: I want the day off or I walk.  Instead, I remembered that making important life decisions in a heightened emotional state is never a good idea, and decided to take 72 hours to decide what to do.

I took time to sit in quiet and contemplate what I truly wanted out of life.  Patricia's words suddenly came to me,  "It isn’t a demand, it isn’t a loud 'no', it isn’t a dig-you-heels-in-the-ground kind of 'no.' It is very quiet. And it is very simple."  I came to the understanding that saying "no" to this job and their inequities was the most loving and respectful thing I could do for myself, and for the people I worked with.  I understood that I had the choice to walk away from an unjust situation with compassion for everyone involved.  I didn't have to go to "court," I didn't have to build my "case," I could simply and proactively choose an action that was inherently right for me.  I quit with integrity and honor for everyone involved. 

So often in life, we feel we must be get pushed to extremes in order to set limits or say goodbye.  Most of us have been taught only to make changes when we have to be reactive instead of proactive.  This is especially true when it comes to declining invitations for family gatherings or social parties.  I know many people who torture themselves for wanting to say "no" to large events that they instinctively know are unhealthy to attend.  They go against that internal voice, and then use alcohol or drugs to "get through it."  When in fact, saying "no" would have been the most decent things they can do to respect themselves and others.  It doesn't have to be angry or resentful, just quiet and calm.

It is true that many people, especially in this economy, are in no position to quit gainful employment, even when they are being disrespected or abused.  Even in these circumstances however, you still can say "no" within yourself to being treated poorly.  You can remind yourself that you are a human being who deserves honor and respect.  If you are being harassed you can start documenting the person, time, place, and exact dialogue that was used to harass you.  There are many ways you can peacefully express "no" to infringements against your dignity without quitting. 

Knowing this lesson contributes a lot toward my experience of peace as I get older.  I realize I am not here to make others happy, and that I couldn't even I wanted to (per Lesson #10). I am not here to be anyone's crucifier, I am not here to be anyone's savior.  I have the right to say "no" to unacceptable treatment, or when it simply feels right, and so do you.  When I set appropriate boundaries, I give others permission to do the same.  Are there areas of your life where saying "no" could bring you more serenity?

EPILOGUE: While writing this piece I was discussing HIV Vaccine Trials with a major club promoter in New York City.  While he says that advancing HIV prevention research is important to him, he unequivocally said "no" to allowing me to distribute any information about preventing HIV at an upcoming event.  His "no" was very clear and calm, and made me realize that following Lesson #7 means I have to be willing to be a graceful recipient of hearing "no" as much as I'm willing to say it.  Respect is a two-way street, and this conversation reminded me that if I want people to follow this lesson, then I have to honor other people's "no" when I hear it.  Thank goodness life still offers me plenty of opportunities to practice and relearn these lessons all the time!

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City. He specializes in issues related to addiction, ageism, bullying, caretaking fatigue, grief and loss, gay/lesbian issues, stress management, depression, as well as couples in non-traditional arrangements. He is the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." To have him speak with your group, or to schedule a counseling visit, call 347-227-7707, or email at Shouldless@gmail.com

**If you are in the New York City area, please come by for Damon's "Fabulous at Forty" workshop on Monday, April 25th, at 8pm, at 208 W. 13th Street, Room 410**

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